A decade has passed since Texas last won a national championship. Its last title game appearance, too, dates back six years. In Austin, even winning seasons have become a luxury. The burnt orange’s relevancy in college football has plummeted. Freshman running back Chris Warren sees the fall’s danger.
“Texas has history and Texas needs to be back where Texas used to be,” Warren said. “It’s not a sense of entitlement at all – it’s the history of Texas.”
Though Texas boasts historical dominance, the purple and green dominate the state’s college football landscape today. Baylor and TCU regularly top the rankings while Texas languishes. Players notice the reversal.
“A few years ago you’d have said, ‘Who are those teams?’” junior safety Dylan Haines said. “But now there’s a growing rivalry with two high-powered offenses.”
That sense of rivalry is exactly what Texas needs to stand a chance Saturday. The team heads to Waco as 21-point underdogs. Texas hasn’t beat Baylor at home since 2009, preceding its last championship appearance.
But the 2015 roster has identified one strength: It can win a rivalry game. A 1-4 Longhorn team upset then-No. 10 Oklahoma on Oct. 10 with confidence. The win remains the lone blemish on the Big 12 champions’ season. OU currently ranks No. 3 in the country.
Head coach Charlie Strong said beating OU offered Texas the perfect momentum to turn around its season – but the Longhorns didn’t bite.
“We played so well against Oklahoma that you would have figured….we’re going to hit a stretch here where we’re going to play well,” Strong said. “There’s always a game that sets you up where you say, ‘OK, that’s the game. Now we can really take off.’ And we never took off.”
Texas lost its chance to take off for the season. It can’t salvage its losing record. And even if a series of flukes make the Longhorns bowl-eligible at 5-7, they don’t deserve the bid. But players and coaches alike stress the need to think short-term: First beat Baylor. Then worry about the program, the season and recruiting. Warren said he expects the team to be competitive in two years.
“I know for a fact that we may not be an immediate impact, but we will definitely get that start,” Warren said. “By the time we’re junior and seniors, it’ll be a pretty good team.”
Hopes of 2017 contention won’t help Texas much this weekend. Only if the Longhorns revert to their rivalry mentality can they upset a Baylor team weakened by injuries and a bruised ego. Texas may consider Baylor a “second-tier” rival, as Haines said, relative to “definite rival” OU. But the Longhorns must treat the Bears as a top-tier rival Saturday. A final upset would jumpstart Texas’ rebuild. Warren said the rebuild is imminent anyway.
“It absolutely will [turn around],” Warren said. “College football needs Texas …The Big 12 needs Texas. They have TCU and Baylor right now. But when the competition gets more stiff and Texas comes back, it’s going to be good. It’s going to be fun to watch.”